The People's Perspective on Medicine

Brazil Nut Warning Causes Worry

Q. You wrote recently about selenium and said three or four Brazil nuts daily supplied enough selenium to cause toxicity. I’m taking 100 micrograms of selenium daily to ward off prostate cancer. Is this dosage of selenium safe?

A. Selenium is a fascinating mineral. Preliminary studies suggest that when people get adequate amounts in their diet, they have better immune function and reduce the risk of developing osteoarthritis. Several studies hint that selenium may help ward off prostate cancer (Harvard Men’s Health Watch, March, 2007).

Too much selenium, however, can be toxic. Symptoms may include rash, hair and nail brittleness, garlic breath, upset stomach and nerve damage). The tolerable upper limit for adults has been set at 400 micrograms per day, so your dose is safe.

An ounce of Brazil nuts (about half a dozen or so) contains roughly 800 micrograms of selenium. That’s why we suggest not eating more than a couple of Brazil nuts three or four times a week.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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I was rather alarmed to read about the possible toxicity of Brazil nuts. I do occasionally eat large amounts of them. Yesterday I must have eaten about 1/2 pound. How long does it take for the selemium to clear out of your system, and can you speed the process along in any way?

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